The Unhappily Employed: Are Some of Us Meant to Be Entrepreneurs?

cubicle-workersToday is my grandfather’s birthday, so I want to dedicate this post to him. It’s a very fitting topic for that, too. Happy birthday, Gramp! It’s also my 100th post!

I’ve been on a bit of a quest to understand more behind the mentality of jobs and what makes workers like or dislike what they do 40 hours a week. Personally, I’m not a big fan of the jobs I’ve held so far, and I don’t plan to have one for the rest of my life either. But others seem more resigned to their fate in the working world. Some even say that they love what they do. I’m really big on math and statistics, so here’s some studies and surveys that I dug up about about jobs and how we feel about them.

Many Americans Hate Their Jobs, Now Maybe More Than Ever

One of the studies I looked at, which is detailed in this 2010 CNN Money article, describes how unhappy many Americans are in their careers. Here’s some of the main points:

  • Job satisfaction is at a 22-year low (and the lowest level since these stats have been tracked) with only 45% of workers satisfied with their jobs
  • Satisfaction has continued to drop despite an increase in vacation days over the years
  • Workers under age 25 were the least happiest
  • 25% didn’t expect to stay at their jobs for longer than a year from the survey

Perhaps I’m just looking for the answers that I want to hear that jobs are terrible, but I feel like this is hard to ignore. Besides, I would predict that if I polled friends and family, the results would be consistent this 45% satisfaction statistic. That’s still far from everyone hating their jobs, and it’s more of a flip of the coin as to if someone likes what they do or not.

I came across this tool, which Payscale created to show the “Happiness Index” for certain careers and jobs. My major of Civil Engineering, which I’ve yet to hold more than in internship in, ranked pretty low at a 40.8 out of 100. That’s not very encouraging and certainly isn’t getting me excited about a career in that field.

Salaries and Job Satisfaction Aren’t Always Correlated

Many love to utter the phrase “money doesn’t buy happiness.” But many articles and posts allude to this study that shows that day-to-day happiness increases up until you hit a salary of $75,000. After that, there’s almost no increase in happiness with salary increase. However, “life assessment,” or how someone feels about their life, does increase beyond $75k. While this does show some relationship between salary and happiness, it’s clear that it’s not true in all cases.

And it’s definitely not all about the money. This study explains that “money is not enough to keep good employees happy.” It turns out that workers care more about other factors related to their jobs, like day-to-day tasks, control over their work, and relationships with coworkers and customers.

I attempted to find more stats for how job satisfaction increases when salary increases as well. Most of the top results I found in Google said something like “Should you choose job satisfaction or higher salary,” which hints that it’s not possible to have both or at least there’s a mentality out there that says that.

Are Some Born to be Entrepreneurs?

I haven’t really loved any of the jobs that I’ve worked at so far (and definitely hated several of them). I’ve often thought: am I just not cut out to be an employee? I’m definitely not lazy nor unmotivated, but it’s always been hard for me to imagine loving a job and wanting to do it for years and years.

Based on research, perhaps there is some truth to this. According to one study, outlined in this Business Week article, tendency towards entrepreneurship is about 48% “heritable” or related to genetics. While this doesn’t indicate that anyone is born a pure entrepreneur or not, it is interesting to note that it’s related to our genetic makeup.

My family history definitely includes entrepreneurship. My grandfather built a golf course in 1963, and it’s been a viable business ever since. It’s possible that some of his entrepreneur genes have been passed to me, and I think he may have passed on some of the business-owner mentality through lessons and stories over the years, too.

Are Freelancers Happier?

When I think about the alternatives to having a job, freelancing often pops up as the next most viable alternative.

I came across this Freelance Industry Report the other day and was excited to see how a survey of 1,200 freelancers would turn out. Before you think that I’m going to go on and on about freelancing again, I’ll start out by saying that the report wasn’t all roses. Results were somewhat inconclusive about feeling more financially secure as a freelancer and preferring freelancing to a job. About a third are still working more than 40 hours a week, so it’s not like everyone has freed themselves from a full week of work. But, overall I’d say the results were very positive.

About 59% of freelancers surveyed said they were definitely happier than they were when employed at jobs, which is encouraging. 45% earn between $20 and $59 an hour for their services, with many earning even more. Even better: 78% said they were optimistic about their freelancing outlook over the next year. Only about 1/3 of freelancers earn more than when they were employed, but I’d guess that the flexible scheduling and other benefits are positives to the freelancers that don’t make more. I’m pretty sure that I won’t immediately make as much freelancing as I do currently as an employee, but I’m definitely looking forward to working on what I’m passionate about and having a more flexible schedule, too.

The Consensus

I’d love to say the consensus is that jobs suck for everyone, but that’s not exactly what I found. There’s no clear answer based on my research and satisfaction with jobs in general. While I was hoping to find more results to discourage jobs, I’m okay with the split consensus since I know that not everyone is like me. Even if results showed that 99% of people loved their jobs, I’d still question if I was in the 1% that isn’t going to be a happy employee forever.

Are you happy with your job? If not, do you think it’s possible to love a job?

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photo by: Jake Sutton


  1. Hey, Jeff! Very interesting post, and I’m definitely with you in that personal fulfillment is on the whole more important to me than guaranteed, lifelong financial security, but I have to say you’ve left me with some questions here. 

    I think you’re suggesting freelancing as an alternative to a job (by which you mean the 9 to 5 grind). It seems to me though that freelancing isn’t a viable option for a lot of Americans, since oftentimes people who are hired for contract work perform a specific service, which derives from a specific, often creative, skill set (designers, copy writers, programmers). I would say that many, and maybe even most Americans, have skills and talents that aren’t necessarily conducive to freelance work. So for them,  jobs are a necessary evil to support their families, pay their mortgages and healthcare costs, etc. What is the alternative to a job for these people?Another point: I’m definitely not knocking your argument that happiness is important! But the statistic you quote that workers under 25 are the least happy sounds reasonable and not really all that alarming since it’s likely they’ll change jobs several times over and move closer and closer to their ideal line of work. Very few people come out of college with their dream job waiting for them. Here’s my experience: I turn 26 this month. I took on a publishing internship right out of school but when it didn’t result in a job, I waited tables over a year and hated, I mean hated every minute of it. I finally landed a job at a publishing company, which was better than waiting on tables but it didn’t pay very well and there was a lot of general frustration in my department. A year later, I landed another job  in the same field, which pays much better and allows me to work out of a home office. Each move climbs the ladder to a better situation and more personal happiness. I’d be willing to bet it’s the same for lots of other 20-somethings.

    Basically, I think happiness is a transient thing. If someone is unhappy at their job currently, that could be subject to change in a different position down the line.

    • Glad to see you’re still reading (and exited to see your comment, too)!

      Those are some great points. You’re right that many Americans could never switch to freelancing, at least not in the creative sense. However, I think there are still opportunities for starting a business (and I’m using “freelancer” and “entrepreneur” somewhat interchangeably here) and trying something different, especially if you hate your job. I personally know several people that have been successful in their own businesses that don’t have any more than a high school education but do possess skills, like carpentry or landscaping.

      I get your point about climbing the latter and getting to a better situation and more happiness. If you can see the light at the end of the tunnel for you that involves different jobs, I think that’s great and I’m happy for you. I just don’t see that for myself, which is why I’ve embarked on this journey to find a different path.

      Since I’m just about to turn 26, too, I don’t want to get into a position where I have a job I hate and simply need to keep my job because I have a family to feed and loans to pay. For those that have the background and skills (and I would say both you and I both fall in this
      category), I believe freelancing is a viable alternative to employment if it’s desired. Is it easy? No. But I believe there are alternatives out there for those that want to go after them.

      Most Americans will NEVER do this, and I’m aware of that. I don’t think there’s a solution to being dissatisfied with jobs for everyone, but I still think that far too few people set out to do something different and change what hasn’t worked about jobs for some time now.

      • Ah, OK. That response definitely addresses my concerns for the carpenters and mechanics among us.  And don’t get me wrong. My sights are still set on the goal of
        freelancing someday.  🙂

         Good luck plowing your own road out there. I’m rooting for both of us!

  2. Happy 100th post, by the way!

  3. “tendency towards entrepreneurship is about 48% “heritable” or related to genetics.”

    How weird! My family tends toward entrepreneurship … but I was adopted!

  4. Love this post Jeffrey! I’ve been following your blog for a little while now and always find your content very well written and interesting. I think you’re right in the sense that some people are more “cut out” to be entrepreneur than others, i think some people have this drive from a very early age and i guess that’s why it’s more difficult for them (for us i should say) to stay into “normal jobs”.

    Great post!

    • Thanks, Caroline! I appreciate the compliments!

      I’ve always felt somewhat entrepreneurial since being a kid. Nothing major, but there’s definitely traces of it with how I earned money when I was younger.

  5. I think young workers are less satisfied because they have the least control over what they do at work.  They are often asked to work longer hours than workers who have been there longer.  Or they are considered very replaceable as they must work for 60 hours a week until they burn out and quit. 

  6. Awesome 100th post!

    My family is not entrepreneurial at all (most of my family members are scientists). What is driving me in that path is corporate America. No control over what I work on, no benefits for loyalty anymore and no rewards for creative skills. Profit has been the only driving force in a lot of companies these days. Some even compromise long term plans to show paper profit in the short term. It is getting tired.

    • Totally agree. I didn’t even get into the specifics about what makes jobs in corporate America crappy and how there’s really no safe bets in terms of staying employed, either. I’d like to be at the forefront when the whole system changes and these old, traditional jobs become less and less common.

  7. Hey Jeff,

    Really insightful post.  I’ve held both freelance and full time jobs.  I have enjoyed both, but can see why being an entrepreneur or freelancer would be appealing.  For me, it’s a big worry to not have affordable health insurance.  That’s the biggest reason I’ve stuck with working the office jobs.

    However, it helps when you can tie your passion to your day job as well.  When that occurs, it’s not that bad.  It’s worth the security that comes with the day job, for what that’s worth.


    • That makes a lot of sense, Bryce. I think I can manage on high-deductible insurance right now since I’m young and healthy. I’m estimating this will cost me around $100 a month if I have to purchase my own plan.

      As far as finding passionate, I haven’t had much luck with that. I’m a little more on edge about job security these days after hearing a lot of heart-breaking stories of layoffs, too.

  8. In my opinion, people who are deeply dissatisfied with  their day jobs are not going to be any more satisfied with a career on their own.

    I maintain (while others would argue) that your perception towards mundane tasks, or even tasks that we don’t enjoy, must be the first thing you change.

    I know many, many people who say things like, ‘Ugh. It’s Sunday. I don’t want to go back to my miserable job.’ or ‘I can’t stand my life’

    They do very little to change their lives, however. They hang out with the same people, eat the same foods, keep the same routines, and some of them think that their lives will magically improve.

    It’s this negative, limiting attitude that must change first in order for happiness to manifest.

    Indeed, their jobs may, in fact, suck farts from a dead dogs ass, but until a mental commitment is made where a new, positive mindset is born, no job change will help increase their happiness.

    Kids under 25 hating their jobs the most is not shocking. This group has an unjustified air of self-entitlement. They think that Tim Ferris is the king of the world, and they think they deserve that 4-hour work week and $40k a month.

    They’re wrong, however. They will also be hilariously unsuccessful because the problem isn’t that they hate their job, it’s that *they hate to work*

    No matter what you do, freelance, own your own business, or work for someone else, if you hate doing work you will never be successful. The problem with kids under 25 is that they want to sit at home, eat pizza, and play XBOX until their eyeballs fall out. They have no interest in mastering a craft or doing ANYTHING at a level where someone would pay them for it.

    But back to the mindset opinion I was stating earlier: For the First World citizens, things are pretty amazing. Of course, we can improve on a lot of things, but all in all the life we live is incredible. We don’t have to hunt food with weapons we made from sticks and stones, we don’t have to worry about clean drinking water, there are a lot of things to be grateful for. Hating your job because you’re too selfish and lazy and (probably) stupid to learn a useful skill is NOT, in my opinion, something justifiable.

    In conclusion, thanks for reading my long-ass response hahahaha. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m really beginning to dig this blog. =)

    “Everything is perfect, but there is a lot of room for improvement.” Shunryu Suzuki-roshi (1905 – 1971)
    “We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” – Carlos Casteneda

    • Tim, thanks for taking the time to write a well thought-out comment!

      I think you’re right about some 25 year olds (and I wrote a bit about entitlement in my post today), but certainly not all of them. I know a lot of ambitious young professionals that are wasting away at their mundane jobs and totally squandering their potential to do something great simply because their afraid to break free. I think these people (like me) enjoy working but maybe not on what they’re currently doing.

      Yes, I think life is awesome in countries like the U.S., but I think there are serious flaws. It’s always hard for me to say my life sucks in any degree when I look at what others endure throughout the world, but I’d love to see even more happy people here in the U.S. that enjoy what they do and work to improve life for everyone.

  9. Congrats on the 100th post. I don’t *love* what I do, but I quite like it. The people, the challenges and the opportunities to learn make it interesting.   We seem to have a pretty happy bunch in our team, maybe it’s unusual compared to the samples in the studies you cited.

  10. I’m considering your question about employment through the prism of how passive-income adherents (guilty) think of work: Active income is a trade-off of time for money. 

    For the employed who would prefer freelancing or entrepreneurship to their jobs, their current employment is a trade-off of happiness/fulfillment for cash flow. Jobs pay now, or at least in two weeks. Freelance/entrepreneurial projects might take months to bear fruit. Most people just don’t have the personal cash flow to give up their jobs.

    That’s not to say someone can’t work and have a side hustle: This blog is proof positive of that.   But many people are unwilling to hustle further than their 40 hour work week, for various reasons. Tim Webster’s comment below touches on some of them, for sure.

  11. anonymous117 says

    There is a difference between want and need. Most people have jobs because they need a job to make money to pay bills. The more proper question to ask in a job satisfaction survey is the following: “If you had no money worries, all your bills were paid, would you still keep your job or do some other thing?” If a person “loves” their job, and money is no object, then they would still keep their job – it makes sense.

    There is a difference between a hobby and a job. In today’s society, a job is essential to generate an income to sustain yourself very much like needing food to stay alive. Some people may consider their jobs on par to relieving themselves in a lavatory; something they have to do, but not something they are looking forward to doing with a sense of glee or joy.

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